arrived at my golf league this afternoon to discover that the Commissioner had declared the final round of the year to be a special event scramble. I almost went home to watch the US Open. Still, in the spirit of harmony, I went along with the league’s plan. I think it’ll be the last time for that.
I’m frankly tired of scrambles. They’re ok as a silly charity event, but I don’t really enjoy a scramble as golf. I don’t play well in them. And when there’s money involved—as there was this afternoon—all I’m doing is making a contribution to the “A Team’s ” bank account. And there’s always an “A Team” that’s in it for the money, rather than the fun.
I don’t play well in scrambles because my game isn’t suited to the format. I’m a medium length hitter, with a good short game and terrific putting skills. On my own, it’s all about smart, conservative golf. I play for the sure bogey, and take advantage of the par and birdie opportunities as they present themselves. I plan on getting to a long par 4 in three and making good putts for par or bogey at worse. It’s a formula that allows me to score well—even against guys who drive the ball forty to fifty yards past me.
My brand of golf, however, has no place in a scramble. Scrambles are about banging the ball as far as humanly possible, then going pin hunting on the approach shots. There’s absolutely no place for a bogey—and precious little for a par. It’s birdie or bust. There really isn’t a lot of thinking involved—and it’s the thinking that I enjoy most about the game.
Off the tee, I’m pretty useless in a scramble. My usual easy swing that’s designed to keep the ball in play looks pretty feeble against guys swinging out of their shoes. One of the others nearly always will be in bounds, and that’s the ball we’ll use. There’s no premium for finding a fairway because scramble rules generally allow player to place the ball within a clublength of the original location and everyone is taking advantage of that rule to “fluff it up” like a tee.
Following tee bomb comes the gouge. Playing to the fat part of the green, or just short of an open approach—as I like to do—is asking for scorn. The goal is to stick the ball close enough for a birdie putt. If you try and fail, it doesn’t matter because someone else probably will succeed.
After nearly every one of my shots in a scramble, I think: “If I were playing on my own, that wouldn’t such be a bad result. I know how to get in for a par or bogey from there.” And then someone else sticks theirs in a slightly better spot. What I’ve often found, however, is that the “slightly better spot” often isn’t one that suits my game. Scramble teams often play from yardages, angles and lies I avoid like the plague. What suits one man’s game doesn’t necessarily suit another’s.
I also don’t handle the dynamics of the scramble game well. If I try to keep up with the bomb and gouge, the result is a string of poor shots—off line, fat, thin. On the other hand, if I play my usual game, I rarely make a contribution. As a result, my delegated role is generally to hit a safe shot so that everyone else can go for broke. That’s not a lot of fun after a while. It’s a bit like being the last guy chosen for a schoolyard baseball team.
The one aspect that I do enjoy is the putting. I am nearly always slotted to putt last in the group (I putt better than most), and can hole some very difficult shots after seeing how three other guys’ balls react.
But that’s not enough for me to really enjoy the golf. I do, however, enjoy the company.
A better format for a league special event might be a four man best ball (we already play two man best ball for our regular format). Everyone on the team plays their own ball, and the lowest score is the team score. That’s the format we used at the Crowne Plaza Invitational Pro-Am and I really enjoyed that. Best ball allows each player to stick to their usual game in a team environment. The problem with four man best ball is that it generally requires handicaps to make it fair. But in a league environment, that shouldn’t be a problem.
In a one shot outing, I think it would be possible to use the Peoria or Callaway handicapping systems to balance a four ball format, but you’d probably need a computer program to handle the results calculations. The organizers would first need to figure out everyone’s individual handicaps, then go back and retroactively apply those to the holes, and then determine the low score for each—all in time to satisfy the waiting players. I’m guessing that there’s already golf league and outing software that will let you manage all of that, though.
I’ve already turned down the “opportunity” to play in a 36 hole scramble this next Thursday. I expect I’ll bail on more throughout the summer until the bad taste wears off.